Brain ageing happens to our pets as well as us. Dementia is a blanket name for the degenerative brain diseases that affect humans. The degenerative disease that affects animals is called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS).
Animals age in 3 ways:
- Successfully – show normal signs of ageing, normal signs of getting older; such as stiffer joints, sleeping more, greying hair…
- Loss of ability – deafness, blindness/ cataracts, loss of sense of smell, arthritis, etc.
- Neurological impairment – CDS
Signs of CDS can be seen behaviourally; as CDS is only diagnosed by a brain scan, looking out for behavioural signs is the best way to catch it early on – you know your pet and their behaviour best, but seeing a behaviourist (such as myself) can help ease any worries, and help you to know how to help your pet.
One way to look for degenerative behavioural signs is D.I.S.H.
D – disorientation
Pets getting confused as to where they are, despite living many years in the same place; missing doorways, continuing to walk despite being against a wall, bumping into furniture that hasn’t been moved around in years, appearing lost in familiar surroundings, failure to recognise familiar people/ animals/ routine, decreased alertness…
I – interacting less
Not greeting you as enthusiastically, or as often; a playful pet not wanting to play, pets retreating into themselves and becoming reclusive, withdrawing often from social situations (either with people or other animals), disinterested in being petted/ fussed, no longer asks for attention…
S – sleeping pattern disturbed
Sleeping more during the day (do not go by this alone, as we all sleep more and earlier as we get older!), sleeping less during the night, lying in more (when usually early riser), rising early (when usually lies in), pointless vocalisation during the night, aimless wandering during the night…
H – house training lost
This is seen more in house pets, as you are more familiar with the toilet habits of your house pet than those that live outside or indoors in an enclosure; not asking to go outside to the toilet, frequently has “accidents” in the house, general loss of bowel and bladder control – unable to control when/ where they go…
Aggression, fear, vocalisation, and over-(self-)grooming are also signs that may occur.
To keep your pets brain active, alter their daily routine – take different routes when walking your pet, teach them new tricks (yes, older animal scan still learn!), mix things up now and then to keep them guessing and get them thinking and using their brain!
A combination of these behaviours as well as being an older animals could indicate CDS – these behaviours can be behavioural problems and not necessarily neurological – always consult your vet for diagnosis.